Review: The Starry Messenger, Wyndham’s Theatre

Middle-aged white male wish fulfilment writ large, The Starry Messenger is a dull, disappointing and delusional three hours at the Wyndham’s Theatre

“Ian, back up”

Don’t you hate it when your nag of a wife won’t let you tell a story about the family of the nurse you’re secretly having an affair with – women amiright! A significant degree of middle-aged white male wish fulfilment permeates The Starry Messenger to the point where the play is left fatally unbalanced unless, you know, you actually agree with the opening sentiment.

Kenneth Lonergan has written what he clearly believes is an epic role for Matthew Broderick and it certainly fits the brief in terms of it being the major part in a three hour running time. Broderick plays Mark, a 50-something lecturer at Hayden Planetarium in New York, whose dreams of becoming an astronomer seem to have turned to stardust, along with any spark of joie de vivre he might ever have had. Continue reading “Review: The Starry Messenger, Wyndham’s Theatre”

Film Review: Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

54 years is quite the wait for a sequel but Mary Poppins Returns is full of nostalgic sweetness and charm  

“Are you sure this is quite safe?
‘Not in the slightest. Ready!'”

54 years is quite the wait for a sequel but the sweetness and charm with which Mary Poppins Returns lands on our screens makes it pretty much worth it. It’s a film that does more than wrap you up in a warm blanket of nostalgia, it tucks you in, throws another log on the fire and makes you a steaming hot chocolate (no marshmallows though!).

Set 30 years after the much cherished original, the story (by David Magee, Rob Marshall and John DeLuca based off of PL Travers’s original tales) sees us rejoin Cherry Tree Lane where the adult Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) lives with his young family (Pixie Davies, Nathaniel Saleh and Joel Dawson). But much like the other long-held sequel of the year, a sadness fills the house for a mother has died. And Michael’s artistic inclinations and part-time job at the bank aren’t bringing in enough to keep them from repossession. Who could possibly save the day…? Continue reading “Film Review: Mary Poppins Returns (2018)”

The Curtain Up Show Album of the Year 2017 nominees

Best UK Cast Recording
42nd Street – 2017 London Cast Recording
Bat Out Of Hell The Musical – Original Cast Recording
Dreamgirls – Original London Cast Recording
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie – Original Concept Recording
Girl From The North Country – Original London West End Cast Recording
The Wind in the Willows – Cast Recording

Best American Cast Recording
Anastasia – Original Broadway Cast Recording
Come From Away – Original Broadway Cast Recording
Dear Evan Hansen – Original Broadway Cast Recording
Hello, Dolly! – New Broadway Cast Recording
Spongebob Squarepants – Original Cast Recording
Sunday in the Park with George – 2017 Broadway Cast Recording

Best Solo Album/Non Cast Recording
Collabro – Home
Leading Ladies – Songs From The Stage
Marisha Wallace – Soul Holiday
Patti LuPone – Don’t Monkey With Broadway
Rachel Tucker – On The Road
Sheridan Smith – Sheridan

Re-review: Girl From The North Country, Old Vic

“There’s something I’ve got to do tonight”

I’m going to call it taking one for the team. Faced with the prospect of Girl From The North Country disappearing into the ether (albeit having left an excellent cast recording behind), I took the plunge and booked myself back into the Old Vic in the show’s final week. So of course, a West End transfer has now been announced, which is great news for something which (spoilers) is likely to figure highly in my end-of-year round-up. It will open at the Noël Coward Theatre in December (casting news still to be announced though) and will be well worth the trip.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 7th October

Album Review: Girl From The North Country (Original London Cast Recording)

The pure quality of the Original London Cast Recording of Girl From The North Country means it is almost as good as the show itself

“And I wait for them to interrupt
Me drinkin’ from my broken cup”

The very notion of a Bob Dylan musical was one about which I couldn’t help but be sceptical but the Old Vic’s Girl From The North Country completely confounded me, emerging as a powerfully moving piece of musical theatre (even if it is determined to label itself a play with songs). And whether that success had been predicted or not, we have been given the gift of a cast recording to tide us over while we queue for returns and/or pray for a West End transfer.

For myself, I’d argue that Bob Dylan songs are best sung by other people anyway, so I should have maybe clocked that this show would be right up my street. And it remains the case here – listening to the original of ‘Tight Connection to My Heart’ suggests nothing of the transcendent beauty that Sheila Atim’s interpretation lends it, the spine-tingling ache in her voice supported with skill and sensitivity by some perfectly arranged backing vocals from the ensemble. Continue reading “Album Review: Girl From The North Country (Original London Cast Recording)”

Review: Girl From The North Country, Old Vic

“Everything’s a little upside down
As a matter of fact the wheels have stopped”

I’m no great fan of Bob Dylan, heretical as it may be to certain elements of the theatre clique. But I don’t mind his songs when they’re sung by other people, so a musical featuring his work seems just the ticket. Or is it a musical? Girl From The North Country comes attached with that most tiresome of sobriquets, ‘a new play by Conor McPherson with music and lyrics by Bob Dylan’, as if musical is a dirty word.

Semantics to one side though, I absolutely adored this. Within a couple of songs I had already made a mental note to work out who to invite when I go again; within three, I had decided who was going to get next year’s Olivier for Best Actress in a Musical (Sheila Atim); by the interval, I was texting all and sundry to get themselves booked in whilst half-decent seats are still available. And all to see a Bob Dylan musical!

Continue reading “Review: Girl From The North Country, Old Vic”

CD Review: The Mystery of Edwin Drood (2012 Broadway Cast Recording)

“I know there must be love that’s yet to be”

Fun and games to be had with this surprisingly effective piece of music hall pastiche. Rupert Holmes’ 1985 musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood is less of a Dickens adaptation that one might initially expect, opting instead to use the source material of Dickens’ unfinished novel as a springboard into something daftly enjoyable, a meta-theatrical murder mystery event with a play-within-a-play and multiple endings which are determined by audience vote. This recording is taken from the 2012 Broadway revival which was mounted by Roundabout Theatre Company.

Holmes’ songwriting thus draws from a raft of old-school influences in harking back to a classic age. There’s a healthy dose of Victoriana in the music hall and a measure of pantomimic broadness mixed in with the Broadway-heavy musical language and it is an enjoyable cast recording to listen to even if you’re not exactly sure what it going on! For completeness, we get the eight possible endings, each with their own song, and this is just one of the aspects that makes this a more full recording than the original – others include the new Act II opener ‘An English Music Hall’ and the revised version of ‘Ceylon’ incorporating ‘A British Subject’, both strong additions. 
And the recording is also blessed with a supremely talented ensemble cast, headed by the incomparable Chita Rivera whose Princess Puffer is a delight (‘The Wages of Sin’ her best number) and a dryly witty Jim Norton as The Chairman. I also enjoyed the performances of Andy Karl and Jessie Mueller as siblings Helena and Neville Landless, paving the way for their leading roles to come (in Groundhog Day and Beautiful/Waitress respectively). I opted not to see the last UK revival, at the Arts Theatre also in 2012 and on this evidence, I might have missed a trick there, so I’ll be sure to catch when it next hits a London stage.

Review: The Crucible, Walter Kerr Theatre

“I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder 

I heard the phrase avant-garde mentioned several times in reference to Ivo van Hove whilst in New York and every time I bristled – the connotations in my head leaning towards a dismissive pretentiousness aimed at someone who I think is one of the most exciting theatre directors currently working. And it did make me wonder, especially in light of the reports of Katie Mitchell being booed at the Royal Opera House last week, about what feels like an instinctive resistance to ‘change’ from established audiences that just feels a bit sad.

Granted, with Broadway ticket prices you may well want to minimise the risk but it would be hard to get excited about another traditional production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible even with big names like 2-time Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan and Ben Whishaw in the cast. As it was, I was just as excited at the prospect of seeing Sophie Okonedo and Jenny Jules – both too rarely on the London stage in recent years – and of course, the chance to see van Hove at work once again was irresistible, especially since I’d let Lazarus pass me by. Continue reading “Review: The Crucible, Walter Kerr Theatre”

Nominations for 2015-2016 Outer Critics Circle Awards

John Gassner Playwriting Award
Lindsey Ferrentino, Ugly Lies the Bone
Lauren Gunderson, I and You
Martyna Majok, Ironbound
Marco Ramirez, The Royale
Anna Ziegler, Boy

Outstanding Actor in a Play
Reed Birney, The Humans
Gabriel Byrne, Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Frank Langella, The Father
Mark Strong, A View From the Bridge
Ben Whishaw, The Crucible Continue reading “Nominations for 2015-2016 Outer Critics Circle Awards”